Not having access to financial services is a fundamental barrier to social and economic growth, and this is a problem for more than half of the world. Low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to even the most basic financial services. Formal financial institutions were not designed to help those who don’t already have financial assets and for those who do not have access to typical banks, microfinance institutions provide an invaluable lifeline.

With access to savings, credit, insurance, and other financial services, the poor are more resilient and better able to cope with the everyday crises they face. But banking is a highly regulated environment. An institution needs to know many things about their customers, including where they live, in order to make a responsible lending decision.

But what if your customer’s address is “Left at the junction, past the petrol station, behind the big tree on the right”?

This makes the microfinance process incredibly difficult to manage and can result in many not getting the access to financial services they need. It is inefficient, error prone and frustrating for all involved.

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what3words in Liberia

Alliance Microfinance AS (AMAS) is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Norwegian NGO Mission Alliance (MA). They provide microfinance infrastructure across four continents with a $250m portfolio. They recently opened in Liberia under the brand Diaconia.

Liberia is the fourth poorest country in the world by GDP per capita (PPP) according to the IMF. One of the major problems in Liberia is that clients do not have addresses. Only some streets are named, houses are not visible on maps, and addresses tend to simply describe directions. Historically, hand-drawn paper maps are used to describe a home and a typical client requires three or four separate maps. Separate maps need to be produced for the home residence of the client, along with the homes of any guarantors.

To solve this, Diaconia are now using what3words.

A simple address for everyone

what3words is the simplest way to talk about location. It has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address. Using what3words, every existing and potential customer of Diaconia now has a unique way of referring to where they live.

“Off United Nations Drive, left at the junction, past the petrol station, behind the big tree on the right, Monrovia, Liberia” could simply be referred to as jotting.younger.miracle.

The what3words app and site allows a customer’s house to be viewed on a map, to discover and share the appropriate 3 word address and to navigate there. 3 word addresses are also accepted in a range of other navigation apps including Navmii – which works with no data connection – can be opened in Google or Apple Maps, and can easily be written down, said over the phone or sent by whatsapp, email or text.

A simple process to use & scale

Diaconia purchased a number of inexpensive Huawei Android smartphones and downloaded the what3words app onto them.

All staff at Diaconia have the mobile phones and when visiting a customer, they capture the 3 word address. Once captured, staff can view a map of the address when back in the office, save it against the customer record and navigate to the customer, all without the need for hand-drawn maps or directions.

By removing the unnecessary and error-prone task of drawing maps from memory, each member of staff saves at least half an hour per client.

Having a precise reference not only provides a simple address for these locations, but it allows routes to be optimised, leading to greater efficiency and easy sharing and visualisation of customer locations.

“what3words offers the best solution to the addressing problem. Use of the app is free, training requirements are relatively low and time savings are pronounced. This is an important improvement to productivity and will help us scale dramatically.” Hugh Sinclair, Chief Operating Officer at AMAS (owner of Diaconia)